UPDATE, Dec. 29: The Coterie's Board of Directors has released a further response. Read it here.
Jeff Church, former leader of Kansas City children's theatre The Coterie, was found dead December 24 in his home according to The Kansas City Star. No cause of death has been revealed.
Church's death comes just days after he resigned from his 30-plus-year career with The Coterie, which presents theatre for family audiences with adult actors. Church's resignation followed a growing list of allegations of sexual assault, and claims that he was predatory towards young male actors.
In a since-deleted Facebook video, Florida actor Dashawn Young spoke of a 2017 assault by Church, when Young was 22. Radio host Mark Manning shared his own story in a December 22 Facebook post, of an incident that occurred when he was 27. According to Manning, he's "heard multiple first-hand and second-hand stories of so many others who have been victimized by [Church]'s sexual assaults," and that the incidents occurred over a period of 30 years.
More allegations surfaced in a December 23 report from Kansas City news outlet The Pitch, which in their investigation spoke to current and former Coterie employees—who called Church's behavior “Kansas City theater’s worst kept secret.”
When asked why he came forward, Young told The Pitch: “I was watching the [Harvey] Weinstein thing on TV ... I couldn’t get Jeff’s face out of my mind. I knew I had to say something. All I can see is his face, when he was on top of me, with this disgusting grin. I tried to laugh it away, and asked him repeatedly to stop, but he kept laughing while saying ‘I don’t care what you want.’ This was The Great Jeff Church, who I’d looked up to since I was a kid.”
The Coterie posted a statement December 23, sharing that Church had been placed on administrative leave and that the theatre would investigate the "very troubling allegations" through a third-party investigator. The following day, the theatre shared that Church had resigned, affirming that the theatre "remains committed to investigating the serious allegations against [Church] over the coming days." The director was found dead later the same day.
The story has put the future of the popular children's theatre, founded in 1979, in question. Theatre representatives have not yet revealed new leadership for the company or plans for preventing sexual assault in the future. The theatre continues to be operational—their current production of A Charlie Brown Christmas is still running.
The theatre has not been responsive to Playbill or several other outlets inquiring about the company's future plans.